In Gaziantep, Turkey, weddings dispel some sadness after the earthquake | News

Gaziantep, Türkiye Gazi Mukhtar Pasha Street in downtown Gaziantep, an elegant neighborhood filled with shops and wedding venues in a city known as a wedding destination, is livelier than it was a year ago, with sidewalks clear of debris and shattered window panes.

Businesses have been open since early morning, and despite the rain, the street is bustling with life and brides searching for the wedding dress of their dreams — like Pazarcik’s Aisinur, who is dreamily shopping.

Diana Haj Asaad, a 37-year-old primary school teacher, remembers when she, too, was excitedly browsing store windows in January 2023, not knowing that her big day, scheduled for February, would be canceled due to a natural disaster.

Dreams shattered and postponed

On February 6, 2023, A 7.8 magnitude earthquake It shook southeastern Turkey and northern Syria at 4:17 a.m., killing more than 50,000 people, displacing millions and causing an estimated $34 billion in damage.

And in Gaziantep, just 68 kilometers (42 miles) from the epicenter Destroyed homes and buildings As well as the dreams of many couples who were about to start their future together.

Hajj Asad was expecting her fiancé Sharif to finally travel from Saudi Arabia to Gaziantep to get married after waiting months for his visa – but everything changed overnight.

“It was terrible,” Haj Asad recalls. “I remember similar fears during the war in Syria.”

Earthquake 1st Anniversary Türkiye Weddings
Shop windows on Gazi Mukhtar Pasha Street are filled with dreamy confetti of dresses for brides to celebrate their big day (Giulia Bernacci/Al Jazeera)

Gaziantep, one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Anatolia, has many large wedding shops and wedding venues set up here, and since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, many Syrian refugees like Haj Asad have settled here.

Some have started wedding businesses to cater to the ever-growing Arabic-speaking community, like 36-year-old Reem Al-Masry, who moved to Gaziantep from her native Aleppo, Syria, in 2013.

Al-Masry and wedding planning agency Dantel were contracted in late 2022 to organize Hajj Al-Assad’s grand day.

The creative design graduate didn’t want to be one of the thousands of refugees forced to open food businesses to survive – so she set up Dantel in 2016.

Having survived the war, lived in exile and endured the death of her mother from afar, she says that the days of the earthquake were some of the most difficult days of her life, especially as a single mother of two young girls.

“We were alone in the house when the earthquakes started shaking our family,” Al-Masry recalls.

“My first idea was to get passports in case we had to flee, as happened during the war. We slept for three days in our car, then left for Istanbul by bus with some friends.

The quake came at her busiest time of year — most weddings are in the spring, so winter is a time when a lot of phone calls, appointments and shopping take place.

Earthquake 1st Anniversary Türkiye Weddings
Preparing the Al-Sato Salon for a wedding (Giulia Bernacci/Al-Jazeera)

On that day, Al-Masry lost her home, one of her employees who was visiting her family in Hatay, and her only source of income. Before the earthquake, she was organizing about four weddings a month, but suddenly there were no other events on her agenda.

“I was afraid I would have to start over,” she says.

Find a space for rescue

From a city of joy and celebration, Gaziantep turned into a place of sadness, and even places built to celebrate happy moments turned into temporary shelters for the displaced.

Aykut Goktinik, 80, manager of the popular Satu Salon wedding hall in Masal Park, also known as the “Fairytale Garden” – decided to open his venue on the night of February 6 for survivors who were outside due to the cold, not knowing how long it would take. The state of emergency will continue.

Juktinik has been in the event planning business for the past 40 years, 13 of them at Sato Saloon. “The night before the earthquake, we organized a henna ceremony, which is a traditional Turkish ritual performed a day or two before the wedding,” Goktinik recalls.

“Within hours, the salon itself turned into a shelter. We were fortunate to have a pantry full of food for planned events.

The building has three large rooms and can accommodate a maximum of 1,500 people, providing a safe haven for many of the city’s displaced people. For the first eight days, Sato’s seven employees volunteered to serve hot meals to about 3,000 people a day.

Earthquake 1st Anniversary Türkiye Weddings
The Sato facilities were opened for earthquake survivors on February 6 last year to provide them with warmth and safety (Giulia Bernacci/Al Jazeera)

“Weddings are a symbol of unity and happiness, and they are a very important celebration that is deeply rooted in Turkish culture,” Goktinik adds. “It was our duty to maintain this spirit in our salon even during an emergency.”

In the ten provinces affected by the earthquake, weddings were suspended for six weeks after the state of emergency was declared. But even after the suspension was lifted, few people were in the mood to celebrate after many families were wiped out and large tracts of homes destroyed, especially in the surrounding villages, where most Antibes have their roots.

Although part of her mother’s family died in the earthquake, Hajj Asaad and her fiancé were excited to resume preparations for the wedding. “We had been engaged for four years and Sharif took so much effort to get that visa that we felt we couldn’t wait any longer,” says Haj Asaad.

“We also wanted to share some positive moments with our relatives after all this tragedy.”

When Al-Masry received a phone call from Haj Asad asking her to set a new date for the wedding, she burst into tears.

“When the day finally came, I didn’t even remember how to apply makeup. I had lost the habit of getting ready for parties.”

On May 2, Diana and Sharif’s wedding was one of the first to be celebrated after a long period of mourning. Al-Masry has organized three more tours since then, with the summer encouraging people to celebrate life again.

Last August, Ayhan Kahraman and his Italian partner, Giuliana Ciucci, celebrated their marriage in a small ceremony with a limited group of friends.

Earthquake 1st Anniversary Türkiye Weddings
Earthquake survivors gather in one of the luxurious wedding halls (Giulia Bernacci/Al Jazeera)

They had originally planned their big day in the spring, but Kahraman lost several family members in February in his hometown of Islahiya, one of the hardest-hit areas.

The couple is no longer in the mood for big celebrations. “Even finding wedding rings was a challenge, because the jewelry store I planned to get had been closed for months,” says Kahraman.

After the ceremony, the newlyweds visited Kahraman village to celebrate with his relatives. “We couldn’t celebrate (traditionally) with drums, parades and lots of gold as gifts,” Ciucci explains.

“To respect mourning, public wedding celebrations were discouraged. So we sat at a small table and talked quietly over tea. This was not the day I was thinking of before the earthquake.

Since Gaziantep was spared severe destruction, many people from other provinces flock there to shop or celebrate their big day. Al-Masry is currently organizing the wedding of Aisnour and her fiancé, Ali, which is scheduled to take place within a month.

“After we had to postpone our happy day for another year, it is very relieved that the last details are finalized, as it means that this time it is actually happening,” says Aysenur, whose hometown in Kahramanmaras province was severely devastated.

“Although it’s sad to have to celebrate it so far from our hometown, at least we will celebrate it.”

Giulia Bernacchi contributed reporting from Gaziantep.

Earthquake 1st Anniversary Türkiye Weddings
Sato’s wedding hall is being prepared for the celebration (Giulia Bernacci/Al Jazeera)

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